Boston College men’s basketball head coach Jim Christian drew it up perfectly. Coming into Tuesday’s first round ACC Tournament game, the third-year Eagles coach knew that he had to take away Wake Forest’s primary scoring option: John Collins. After all, it was Collins, the ACC’s third-leading scorer, who dissected the BC defense back in the two teams’ Jan. 31 matchup.
This time around, BC double-teamed Collins, and ultimately held him to a mere five first-half points—none of which came from the field.
And that wasn’t all the Eagles did to disrupt the Demon Deacons. BC forced eight Wake Forest turnovers in the first 20 minutes, while only coughing up two of its own. It also applied constant pressure on the defensive end. But most importantly, the team showed an unprecedented will to win.
Yet there was one thing Christian couldn’t plan for: an injury to his most valuable player.
Nearing the five-minute mark in the first half, Ky Bowman emphatically blocked a Bryant Crawford shot. But on his way down, the All-ACC Freshman landed awkwardly on his right leg. Bowman grimaced in pain and could not move his knee without assistance. The Barclays Center went silent.
Bowman’s season was finished, and effectively, so was the Eagles’. Wake Forest would go on to extend its halftime lead and defeat BC, 92-78.
The Demon Deacons got out of the gates quickly, hitting their first four 3-pointers—three of which came from Austin Arians. Up 15-5, it appeared as if Wake Forest was already getting away from BC. But the Eagles responded.
BC forced turnovers on back-to-back possessions. The first of which was capped off by a one-handed Bowman slam. And the second ended in a pair of Chatman free throws. From this point forward, BC began to settle into a groove, both offensively and defensively.
The Eagles’ ball screen defense slowed down the Wake Forest attack and limited the Demon Deacons’ scoring opportunities. In fact, Wake Forest only recorded 16 field goal attempts in the opening period. On the other hand, BC was jacking up twice as many.
But just because the Eagles were getting shots, doesn’t mean they were cashing in. A.J. Turner’s first shot of the game consisted of splitting the defense, but then laying the ball up short of the basket. Connar Tava would have a similar miscue later on, except instead of releasing the ball short of the hoop, Tava wound up for a one-handed dunk. He took too long, and the Demon Deacon defense made him pay, swatting the ball away from his grasp.
Mistakes aside, BC was outscoring Wake Forest in the paint, despite a clear size discrepancy. Johncarlos Reyes and Nik Popovic were making timely cuts toward the basket, finding space in the Demon Deacon defense—in large part, due to the Eagles’ perimeter ball movement.
Although Wake Forest was limited from the field, it still found ways to score. The Collins double-team created scoring chances for others on the floor. As a result, Collins routinely dished the ball out to a teammate who could locate the open man. This often resulted in a Demon Deacon trip to the charity stripe, as BC defenders struggled to close the gap between them and the open man without fouling. Wake Forest took advantage of the whistles, shooting 19-of-23 from the free throw line in the first period alone. By the end of the game, it would net a total of 33—one third of which came from Crawford.
Approaching the end of the first half, BC trailed by less than five points. Not because of lights-out shooting or domination on the boards, but because of its demeanor. Whether it was Bowman laying out to save a ball from bouncing out of bounds, or Garland Owens diving to floor to force a jump ball, the Eagles’ hustle was keeping them in the game.
But it was also what doomed them. Bowman’s injury stemmed from a Lebron James-esque, leaping block attempt. Not only was Bowman gone, but so was most of their energy.
Still, the Eagles continued to hang around Wake Forest, as Jordan Chatman and Jerome Robinson carried the load. At intermission, BC was only down six. The Eagles started the second half with a Mo Jeffers jumper and a Owens drive and lay-in, refusing to let Bowman’s injury serve as an excuse or a distraction.
The BC bench, which outscored the Demon Deacons 39-13, helped the Eagles tie the game at the 53. But after that, it was all Wake Forest. More specifically, it was all John Collins. The All-ACC First Team representee tallied 14 second-half points in a variety of fashions. Collins found a rhythm from mid-range and continued to reach the free throw line deep into the second half.
Collins and Co. went on a 20-7 run, establishing a 13-point lead. And for BC, a team that was tired and depleted, that was too much to overcome. Led by Robinson and Chatman, the Eagles chipped in what they could, but the loss was inevitable.
Following the game, Christian acknowledged his team’s progress. But he also added that the program’s rebuilding period is not over.
“This is a process,” Christian said. “I mean it’s one step at a time … there are no miracles out here. You’ve just gotta stay with your process, believe in what you’re doing. I do, and I believe in our kids.”
Last year, BC’s exit from the ACC Tournament served as a culmination of infamy. Tuesday’s highly-contested battle warranted respect and provided a sense of hope.
Featured Image by Mary Altaffer / AP Photo